As we continue to snowball towards a climate catastrophe, there seems to be little hope of anything other than impending doom.
Day in day out we are reminded of what we must do to save our precious planet. Cut down on emissions from fossil fuels we are told. Stop eating meat they say. It is crucial we waste less and recycle experts plead.
I’ve spent many sleepless nights pondering why the situation remains so dire in spite of our efforts and do all of these things. One conclusion leads me to shine a spotlight on a deadly factor that seemingly has little to no mass coverage within the public domain.
This devil in the dark is called palm oil.
I’m sure many of you will at least be vaguely familiar with this product even if you may not know much else about it.
Palm oil is basically an edible vegetable oil derived from the mesocarp of the fruit of oil palms; and you may be disturbed to learn that the farming of this innocent sounding product is having a monumental impact on the acceleration of climate change.
Anyone who opts to have a quick browse on the back of processed food packets might have noticed the words ‘palm oil’ crop up as a randomly listed ingredient somewhere amongst the other items. This is because palm oil one of the most versatile ingredients around when it comes to food preservation, cooking and also foaming. As a result, palm oil is used in everything from cooking oil, to chocolate and biscuits and even a wide variety of personal care and cleaning products. It is estimated that palm oil occurs in close to 50% of the packaged products we find in supermarkets.
It is safe to say the demand is vast. And it continues to grow!
So, what exactly is the problem here?
Quite simply the consumption of palm oil is one the main drivers of deforestation. Whole forests have been bulldozered down to make way for mass plantations, and the impact of this is frightening.
Trees play a vital role in balancing CO2 levels within our atmosphere through their ability to absorb this gas in exchange for oxygen.
Hacking down hectre upon hectre of our trees, not only takes away essential tools in the control of CO2 but it also means the CO2 contained with those trees is released in eye-watering levels back into the atmosphere. This coupled with the fact palm oil production requires carbon rich peat for growth is essentially fuelling this global crisis.
Discovering this outrageous occurrence is unfolding as consequence of our seemingly innocent trips to the supermarket, really did make me angry and my immediate thought was to boycott buying anything that contains palm oil.
However, as I continued my research it became clear that the solution wasn’t that simple. Palm oil is so essential to our everyday consumption that avoiding it completely in search of an alternative may actually cause more harm than good. This is because the production of alternative oils etc would actually require even more land usage and thus make the problem even worse.
Rather than avoid, we as consumers must buy from companies who use sustainable palm oil. Its shocking to believe that not all companies do already, but this is sadly the truth and one that should be highlighted with much more severity. Some purchase what the industry call ‘dirty’ palm oil and organisations such as the WWF are working tirelessly to change this.
What angers me here is that I had no idea about my responsibility until recently. As such it is not a far cry to conclude many other consumers will be oblivious to their invisible obligations.
Companies on the other hand, should know all about their responsibilities and have a moral duty to do the right thing. The future of our planet depends on it.
It is not too late to make a stand though! The WWF have a great free tool available on their website which enables consumers like you and I to key in the name of a company and find out how that company is performing in terms of its commitment and actions in regards to sustainable palm oil.
Companies are scored and categorised as such;
Middle of the Pack
Well on the Path
Leading the Way
This tool offers the perfect opportunity to hold companies accountable for their actions. For example, a quick search (as of publish date) revealed that The Kraft Heinz Food Company were scored as ‘Lagging Behind’. On the flip side this tool allows us to see which companies are doing their bit. Mars for example are categorised as ‘Leading the Way’.
There is no reason why we all cannot use this tool when considering what brands of product to buy. It takes 2 minutes and then we can avoid brands who are contributing to the earth’s rapid demise.
You can find the WWF Scorecard here https://palmoilscorecard.panda.org/#/scores
Whilst undertaking this important task, you may well discover (as I did) that a company whose products you swear by, unfortunately happens to fall below the expected standards. A bit of a bummer I know.
All is not lost. In fact, this scenario could act as a driving vehicle for ground-breaking positive change. Believe it or not, most companies care or at least are mindful about what their customers want. Therefore, if you find a company you like is not doing enough, call them out on it and demand change. In fact, do this publicly via social media and encourage others to do the same. Tell them your loyalty will cease to remain unless they change their ways.
The last thing big companies want is to lose customers and perhaps even more so, allow their brand image to be tarnished.
If we all do our bit, our rainforests (aka the lungs of the world) might just have a chance of thriving again. Trees may be our biggest weapon in the fight against our imminent climate catastrophe; and we need them!